03/19/2007 12:00AM

Champ survives thrilling duel

Stephanie Van Minos/Tom Cooley
Any Given Saturday (left) battled bravely in the stretch but could not hold off Street Sense, who earned a nose victory in Saturday's Tampa Bay Derby.

OLDSMAR, Fla. - In one of the most exciting Kentucky Derby prep races in recent memory, reigning Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Eclipse Award winner Street Sense outdueled and ultimately outlasted an equally game and tenacious Any Given Saturday to register a nose decision in Saturday's $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby.

Street Sense ($4.40), making his first start since his sensational 10-length victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, also established a stakes and course record after covering 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.11 over a fast track. Delightful Kiss was another 6 1/4 lengths back in third.

The Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby looked like a two-horse race on paper, but nobody envisioned the event turning into a virtual match race with neither Street Sense nor the 3-5 Any Given Saturday giving a quarter after hooking up at the head of the stretch.

The opening six furlongs of the Tampa Bay Derby unfolded pretty much as expected, with All I Can Get setting the early pace and Most Distinguished in close pursuit. Any Given Saturday was reserved within easy striking distance just outside and behind the leaders, with Street Sense a couple of lengths farther behind while saving ground and well in hand under regular rider Calvin Borel.

Jockey John Velazquez sent Any Given Saturday up three wide to challenge the leaders approaching the quarter pole, but Street Sense was able to slip through inside the tiring All I Can Get to gain a short advantage entering the stretch. At that point it appeared the 2-year-old champ might surge clear, but Any Given Saturday fought back bravely. The pair continued nose to nose with Street Sense clinging to a narrow advantage that he held to the wire.

"My horse did everything you could ask of him," said Carl Nafzger, who trains Street Sense for owner James Tafel. "That's one hell of a colt we just beat out there today. He's one of the best of the crop and certainly the best of all the non-Breeders' Cup horses I've seen this year."

Nafzger said he was not concerned that Street Sense had to run so hard coming off a 4 1/2-month layoff, and confirmed that the Blue Grass Stakes would remain his final Kentucky Derby prep.

"He needed to run this hard," said Nafzger. "I thought we could get into a situation where Todd's horse got the jump on us and we might not be able to catch him. The only thing I told Calvin was to read the pace, ride his race, but not to leave our horse with too much to do."